There can be few more stirring sounds and sights than catching a good old big band in the act. That may be something of a generational thing and, yes, there are plenty of music fans under the age of, say, 40 who might prefer to get their kicks from getting down to computer-crafted electronica vibes. Even so, a brass lineup or any large ensemble doing its unamplified damnedest to blow the roof off the auditorium or possibly the nearby buildings as they march down the street can provide plenty in the way of an adrenalin rush.
There should be a generous offering of that joie de vivre around at the 26th annual Big Band Festival, which takes place in Kfar Saba from April 26 to 28. The three-day event will be overseen by the local municipality and the local Conservatory of Music, under the directorship of Ofer Ein- Habar, who doubles as festival artistic director.
The event has grown over the years, mainly since Kfar Saba’s landmark anniversary two years ago. “Before that, it was a festival for wind instruments,” says Ein- Habar. “In 2013, for the town’s 110th anniversary, it was decided to make a change.”
That involved a degree of branding – never a bad ploy for any cultural venture. “If, for instance, you mention the Karmiel Festival, you immediately know what it’s about [dance]. This [Kfar Saba] festival is the city’s main festival,” says Ein- Habar.
As such, notes the artistic director, it has spread its wings to cover as much genre and instrumental ground as possible. “We now have big bands and orchestras, but we also have pop band and rock bands and all sorts of things,” he adds.
This year’s lineup features some big names from the latter sectors of the music industry: singersongwriter Kobi Aflalo and acclaimed pianist-vocalist and composer Shlomi Shaban, as well as jazz-oriented saxophonist Arik Livnat and popular Christian Arab singer Miriam Tukan.
But the main thrust of the program is the voluminous ensemble format, which in itself takes in a wide swath of styles and levels of experience and professionalism. The proceedings kick off on the evening of April 26 with a gala performance at the recently refurbished Heichal Hatarbut. Shaban will be the show’s musical lynch pin, along with two symphonic orchestras from Kfar Saba and Eilat.
As the head of the town’s leading music education institution, Ein-Habar has naturally left ample berths in the festival program for activities of a didactic nature. Prior to the glittering official opener, an outdoor musical happening will take place at the Jerusalem Pedestrian Mall, aimed at the youngest members of the audience. The Concertaff slot will include explanations of some of the artistic intricacies for preschoolers, and several ensembles, including groups from Sderot and Tira, will perform under conductor Yair Mashiach.
Mashiach’s day job is manager of the municipality’s Culture and Youth Wing, and he also serves as the festival’s general manager.
“The centerpiece of our work is education to music,” states Ein- Habar. “So having kids play in ensembles whereby they not only have to play their instrument well but also listen and be attentive to the other players and to the conductor is excellent training in itself.”
Ein-Habar also attaches educational added value, in additional to clear marketing and entertainment advantages, to the inclusion of seasoned professionals alongside the younger amateur musicians.
“I think it is good for the younger students to see the level they have to aim for,” he notes. “Shlomi Shaban, for instance, will play a concerto and his own material, and he will perform with youth.”
On the second day of the big combo bash, the focus is on jazz.
That’s something of a surprise, considering that the conservatory is basically a classical music education institution. Since he became head honcho, after teaching at the conservatory for 24 years, Ein-Habar has shaken up the musical mix of the place, opposition notwithstanding.
“Over the last three years, I have introduced a lot of rock, pop and jazz,” he declares. “There were those who were wary of that because the conservatory is really about classical music. But the place and the students have not suffered any detrimental effects at all. Everything and everyone has benefited from it.”
The fruits of the aforementioned “extraneous” educational activities will be on full display on the second day of the festival as several eponymous outfits strut their jazzy stuff at a number of indoor and outdoor spots around the town.
“There will be ensembles from music departments of high schools from all over the country,” Ein-Habar explains, adding that there will be some more senior lineups in action as well.
“One of the sessions will feature the IDF orchestra,” he says. The juxtapositioning of the latter words generally tends to conjure up images of brass-based uniformed players striding across a parade ground in well-drilled fashion.
However, it seems there has been a rush of new blood across the IDF band ranks. “They have a new young conductor named Noam Inbar,” Ein- Habar points out. “He has started all sorts of great new things. There is [veteran jazz saxophonist] Amit Freedman, who will be playing with the big band; and towards the end of the day, the IDF band rhythm section will take part in a jam session.”
An appearance by a big band from Wiesbaden, Germany, one of Kfar Saba’s twin cities, is also on the second day agenda. Ein-Habar is also keen to point out some of the exciting musical prospects on the festival agenda, including 16-yearold Jerusalem saxophonist Avraham Tarfia.
By now it had become clear that the festival’s Big Band title is somewhat misleading in the best sense of the word. “There is such a wide variety of shows and events over the three days,” says Ein-Habar. “There are different styles, different bands, different age groups and different levels of expertise and experience. This is really a festival for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Mashiach believes there is more to the festival and the conservatory’s work than just trying to produce good musicians.
“As a leading city in the field of nurturing children and youth in education and promoting music, we view the festival as our contribution to integration and tolerance through the dissemination of music, song and playing instruments as a social message and value of the highest order,” states Mashiach.
After the gala opener and the eclectic spread of musical entertainment over the three days, the festival will close in typically spectacular fashion with a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ever-exciting 1812 Overture, complete with canon fire, fireworks and all.For tickets and more information: www.ksaba.co.il